Lansing headquarters of Accident Fund takes starring role in ‘Under the Radar Michigan’

A screen capture from the “Under the Radar Michigan” episode.

Accident Fund Holdings, a workers compensation company and wholly owned subsidiary of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, has added new vitality to downtown Lansing since opening its headquarters in a former abandoned power plant in 2011. The company’s efforts to renovate the massive building and breathe life into the city of Lansing are showcased in a recent episode of “Under the Radar Michigan.”

In the episode, BCBSM President and CEO Daniel J. Loepp explains the combined effort it took to make the project come together. “When we first started looking at an older power plant and turning it into business use, everybody thought we were crazy,” said Loepp. “[The building] has had a phenomenally positive impact on the city and the region.”

Now in its second season, the 30-minute “Under the Radar Michigan” episodes air on public television stations across the state and feature weekly episodes to connect people to their home state.

“We are honored to have Accident Fund national headquarters featured in an Under the Radar Michigan episode,” said Liz Haar, president and CEO of Accident Fund Holdings. “The show truly exemplified the importance of economic development in Michigan’s core cities and Accident Fund is proud to be a big part of that effort in downtown Lansing.”

Find out when the full episode airs here, or watch it on the Under the Radar Michigan website.

Relocating employees downtown reflects huge momentum swing for Detroit, RenCen (with slideshow)

The completion this week of our BLUnite project, which unifies 6,400 employees in our expanded downtown Detroit campus, was about many things: It puts an exclamation point on Blue Cross’ commitment to this city for the long term, and we realize a host of new real estate cost savings, operational efficiencies and other improvements. And after all the hard work by employees and the crews who made it happen, it’s a great reason to celebrate.

But as Tom Walsh points out in a Wednesday column in the Detroit Free Press, there is an element to this story that’s all too easily overlooked.

As he put it, our move of 3,400 employees constitutes “a remarkable change of fortune for the Renaissance Center and its chief occupant, General Motors, both engulfed in a sea of question marks just two short years ago.”

Thousands of Blues employees gathered for a lunchtime celebration Wednesday, enjoying the sounds of the Detroit Academy of Arts and Sciences choir, with many forming dance trains to the booming music from a DJ. Mayor Dave Bing and I spoke about how our project, along with similar moves from other companies, underlined the positive momentum under way in the city and helped form a “strong mass” of businesses in the city’s core.

This new, positive momentum is a stunning reversal from where we were just a few short years ago.

In 2009, when the auto industry was staggered by a weak economy, the very survival of our city, region and the American auto industry was in question. The auto industry affects all Michiganders either directly or indirectly, so everyone in Michigan – southeast Michigan in particular – would be affected by the outcome.

By mid-2010, as Tom Walsh writes in his column, GM decided against relocating its corporate headquarters out of the Renaissance Center. But it still had an issue with empty real estate in Towers 500 and 600.

It’s often said that timing is everything. I looked out my office window toward the Detroit River back then, saw those towers, and a question came to my mind: “What if…?”

Today marks nearly two years after we announced our plan to bring employees from the suburbs to the Renaissance Center. Today, the RenCen’s  occupancy rate is 93 percent, highest in its history. The RenCen, which has long served as an icon, representing Detroit to the nation, is literally full of life. And the auto industry is back on track, too.

The same can be said for downtown Detroit. Blue Cross is proud to join a growing list of companies that are putting stakes in the ground and betting on the city’s future.

We’re proud to be home in the D. And I’m proud to say, Detroit is open for business.

Take a look at photos from our BLUnite celebration below.

Daniel J. Loepp is president and chief executive of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan.

Jefferson Building Improvements Strengthen BCBSM’s Link With History (With Photo Slideshow)

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The March 1954 edition of the Blues’ employee newsletter devoted three pages to the company’s new Jefferson Building offices in Detroit, where some 700 employees were about to move into spacious, amenity-filled modern offices.

“As the time draws near for moving into our new building practically everyone is seeking answers to his or her own special problems,” the article began. “Highlights is going to tell you all about it — everything from elevators to electric lights and from banks to barber shops. You’ll like working in our new home.”

Nearly 58 years later, it gives me great honor to rededicate a building that serves as a living link to the Blues’ rich history of serving the people of the state of Michigan.

We recently took the wraps off our newly improved Jefferson Building. Construction crews have renovated the first floor and entrance of the building at Jefferson and Beaubien Street, adding a glass, storefront façade, modern high-tech collaboration spaces for employees and treadmill Walkstations where employees can exercise while they work.

The changes are intended to open the building up to the street and remake the “old lady,” as Highlights called it then, into a central tech hub of collaboration for our newly expanded downtown Detroit campus, which now stretches from the Renaissance Center Towers 500 and 600 to Lafayette Boulevard four blocks north.

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Live Downtown Residency Incentives are Helping to Rebuild Detroit

Efforts by engaged businesses and their activated employees to bring people to live where they work and play are breathing new life into downtownDetroit.

I spoke Tuesday at the annual luncheon meeting of the Downtown Detroit Partnership. As I look around at the progress we’ve made under the leadership of Cindy Pasky, I’ve never seen more buzz or tangible action on the streets.

Drawing Residents

The response to Live Downtown, a cash incentive program designed to bolster residency in the central business district and key adjoining neighborhoods, has been tremendous. In the first six months after we announced it in July 2011, we’ve approved more than 100 applications for new home purchases and rentals, existing rentals and home renovations. Another 250 employee applicants, including 50 pre-approved applicants, are in the pipeline.

More than three quarters of the applications to the program are coming from suburban residents who want to move into the city. At Blue Cross alone, we’ve had more than 12,000 hits to our internal Live Downtown website and nearly 200 employees who have applied for the program.

Live Downtown is a $4 million-plus initiative by the Blues, Compuware, Quicken Loans, DTE Energy and Strategic Staffing Solutions. Eligible participants can get a forgivable loan of up to $20,000 to purchase a home, $3,500 for a new rental and up to $5,000 for exterior renovations for projects worth at least $10,000.

Core Investments

Commitments from the five companies that sponsor Live Downtown have led to 7,000 additional jobs and roughly $120 million in new investment in Detroit since 2010.

This week, in fact, sees more than 280 BCBSM employees report for work for the first time at renovated offices in the Renaissance Center Tower 600. Another 305 will join them next week after relocating from Southfield, and by this summer, when our final moves have been completed, Blue Cross will have more than 6,300 employees on its unified downtown Detroit campus.

The moves add to the great progress we’re making at the DDP, a sampling of which are listed below (or read our 2012 Annual Report):

  • Developing a new Downtown Retail Strategy to work with downtown property owners with the goal of attracting 15 to 20 new retailers into Woodward Avenue storefronts by 2014
  • Supporting the Detroit Public Lighting Department as it retrofitted more than 1,000 streetlights to use energy-efficient LED lights in key areas of downtown
  • Launching D:hive, a collaborative effort to attract and retain new talent to Detroit through services including referrals, tours, real estate market information and start-up classes for aspiring entrepreneurs

While this is a great start, we’re nowhere near being done. The city’s current financial crisis shows that tough decisions — and far-sighted thinking and investment — are needed from business, residents and all who love Detroit.

But as I told Carol Cain for a recent Detroit Free Press column, I remain confident about the investments Blue Cross and others are making. If we work together in a sustained effort, momentum is on our side.

Daniel J. Loepp is president and CEO of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan and the executive committee chairman of the Downtown Detroit Partnership.

Photo by utopiandreaming

How the New Entrepreneurial Spirit in Detroit Benefits All of Michigan

Even if you’re not in the habit of perusing business news, you owe it to yourself to read Inc. magazine’s comprehensive new series, “Innovation Hot Spots: Detroit.” The package of 15 stories (yes, you read that number right) about the city’s new startup culture crystallizes why so many people like me are bullish on the Motor City.

One of the headlines in this series puts it well: We are witnessing “A Whole New Groove for the Motor City” take shape. All of us who care about Detroit specifically and Michigan more broadly should feel excited about our region’s newfound sense of optimism and possibility.

Proud to Partner

I’ve written before about how we’re aligning our actions at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan with efforts to strengthen core cities like Detroit — by relocating roughly 3,000 suburban employees to downtown, by being part of the Live Downtown residency initiative, and by partnering with local vendors to create jobs, embrace diversity and achieve key business objectives.

While consolidating our corporate campus serves definite business interests, one of the secondary goals was to help support a critical mass of businesses in the central business district with people able to support them with their money. With help from partners like General Motors, Compuware, DTE Energy, Ilitch Holdings, Quicken Loans and its founder-turned venture capitalist, Dan Gilbert, we’re starting to see the fruits of those efforts.

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Another Downtown Detroit Office Building Scheduled for Renovation

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan will give its Jefferson Avenue office building a 21st century facelift as part of ongoing efforts to create a collaborative, interactive corporate campus in downtown Detroit.

The company plans a comprehensive makeover of the first floor and entrance of the Jefferson Building, located at the corner of Jefferson Avenue and Beaubien Street. The renovations will strengthen the building’s identity within the Blues’ downtown campus, enhance security and promote employee wellness and interaction.

“We see the Jefferson Building becoming the hub that unites our downtown Detroit campus,” said Tricia Keith, vice president, Corporate Secretary and Services. “While it will improve our visibility and create a more inviting street-level experience, it will also serve as a fun and functional place for employees to meet, learn and collaborate.”

Among the new features planned:

  • A storefront-style glass entrance along Jefferson meant to mirror the glass exterior of the Renaissance Center across the street, where the Blues also have offices
  • New exterior blue lighting
  • An outdoor café-style employee eating area
  • Modern collaboration spaces and conference rooms

A rendering of the new glass storefront-style entrance planned for the building.

  • Treadmill “Walkstations” where employees can walk and work at the same time
  • An interactive technology space staffed by Blues IT professionals who will provide servicing, support and opportunities for employees to test drive the latest technologies
  • A vending area with café seating
  • An activity area for relaxing during lunch breaks or after hours

The upgrades will add to recently completed improvements to the entrance of the Renaissance Center Towers 500 and 600. The Blues are renovating office space in the two towers to relocate 3,000 employees from the suburbs.

Blue Cross originally purchased the building at 441 E. Jefferson in 1950, conducted extensive renovations — including adding two floors — and took occupancy in 1954. In 1979, the company gave it a modern glass facade and updated it with HVAC and electrical systems.

A rendering of the lobby after renovations.

“The attached parking structure was built in the mid ’90s and throughout the years we have made continuous improvements to the facility to keep it modern by replacing obsolete infrastructure and finishes,” said Ray Warner, director, Facility and Support Services.

Renovation work has already begun and is scheduled to wrap up in mid-2012.

Blues Take Wraps Off New Renaissance Center Tower Entrance in Detroit

Construction has wrapped up on a project to improve the front entryway to the RenCen Towers 500 and 600, where Blue Cross is relocating 3,000 employees from offices in Southfield. Blues President and CEO Daniel J. Loepp and Tricia Keith, the company’s vice president, Corporate Secretary and Services who is spearheading the move, recently led a walking procession of employees from offices nearby on Lafayette Boulevard and Jefferson Avenue to celebrate the grand opening. The configured entrance opens the towers to pedestrian access from Jefferson and adds the company’s cross-and-shield signage to a bulkhead wall.

Check out a slideshow of images from the event below.

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New ‘We Believe’ Billboard in Detroit Has a Double Meaning

Our new billboard at the foot of I-375 and East Jefferson Avenue in Detroit carries a bold, powerful and simple message:

Believe.

As in, believe in the Tigers, the team behind the iconic old English D that is racing toward the postseason, emphatic winners of 10 straight games as of this writing. But it’s more than that.

Don’t be surprised if Detroit fans cheer extra hard if the team, as expected, clinches the Central Division and earns a trip to the postseason, bringing a taste of October baseball back to town. Like us, they’ll be cheering for a storied baseball team — but they’ll also be cheering on an entire city.

Detroit has been through some challenging times, but that hardly needs mentioning. What’s important now is that positive momentum is definitely afoot, with new businesses opening, a progress-minded city government, new residents downtown and an infusion of energy and goodwill.

So with every home run that Tigers batters belt over the outfield fence, with every commanding Justin Verlander performance, yeah, we believe.

Do you?

New Downtown Lansing Offices: Strengthening our Commitment to Michigan’s Core Cities

Starting next week, downtown Lansing will be the home to an additional 300 Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan employees. The ribbon was cut this morning by our CEO Dan Loepp with an enthusiastic crowd of supporters and members of the media. Some members of our team shared pictures to Twitter in real time this morning. Here are a few of those pictures:

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Our Lansing-based workforce is moving to downtown offices from a former suburban location.

The news media was also quick to pick up the story about our new Lansing location. Here is a sample of some of the headlines that posted today:

You can also listen to the recording of Dan Loepp’s interview with Mike Conley this morning on Lansing’s AM 1320 WILS.

New Downtown Lansing Accident Fund HQ Reflects Commitment to Michigan’s Cities

On Tuesday in Michigan’s capital city, a brawny relic that once powered Lansing’s industrial age roared back to life as a magnet for the knowledge-based economy many in Michigan say is key to the state’s future.

Appearing at a ribbon cutting ceremony March 29 at Accident Fund's new downtown Lansing headquarters were (L-R): James Agee, chairman of the Accident Fund board of directors; Steven Roznowski, chairman and CEO of Christman Co.; Daniel J. Loepp, president and CEO, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan; Elizabeth Haar, CEO of Accident Fund Holdings; and Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero.

In transforming the Ottawa Street Power Station from abandoned urban brownfield to state-of-the-art offices for its expanding national worker’s compensation business, Accident Fund Holdings delivered a statement that will echo around the country. Accident Fund and its owner — Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan — have given people who care about redevelopment, urban revitalization, environmentally sustainable construction and historic preservation architecture a reason to come to Lansing.

I lived in Lansing for six years in the late 1990s. Anyone who has called mid-Michigan home knows why the restoration of the Ottawa Street Power Station is a really big deal. Nestled along the west bank of the Grand River, the power station sat idle and decaying since 1992, its monolithic smokestack harkening back to this community’s 20th century industrial prominence as the place where Oldsmobile was born. The plant blocked pedestrian use of the Grand River’s west bank. It sits squarely between the beautiful Lugnuts baseball park and convention center on the river’s east side, and the one major downtown hotel on the west side of the river.

Both in substance and in symbolism, the new Accident Fund headquarters transforms an aging relic of Lansing’s past into a state-of-the-art catalyst for the region’s growth and future prosperity.

Preserving the Art Deco masterpiece and moving in 650 workers now and up to 500 more over the next 10 years gives another boost to mid-Michigan as a magnet for insurance and financial services jobs. Companies like Jackson National Life Insurance Company, Delta Dental Plan of Michigan, Auto-Owners Insurance and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan have headquarters and major operations in the mid-Michigan region. Blue Cross, in fact, is moving its mid-Michigan workforce of approximately 300 into the former headquarters of Accident Fund on Capitol Avenue, ensuring a stronger workforce presence for Lansing and boosting the downtown’s vitality and quality of life.

The construction team – supervised by Christman, with architecture partner HOK – employed environmentally sustainable practices, ensuring that more than 98 percent of the scrap from the project avoided landfills. Most of the construction crews were hired from Michigan companies, 106 Michigan-based suppliers and companies were involved and the permanent furniture and furnishings were bought from Michigan firms.

On March 30, the Lansing City Pulse dedicated a special section to the project. Headlined “Phoenix Risen,” the articles provide a community view of how this project came to be, and what it means for Lansing’s future.

Blue Cross is proud to add the Ottawa Street Station to our growing list of investments in Michigan’s core cities. BCBSM renovated the vacant Steketee’s department store in downtown Grand Rapids for our West Michigan operations. As mentioned previously, we are moving 300 Blues employees into downtown Lansing. And in May, the Blues will begin moving 3,000 workers into downtown Detroit’s GM Renaissance Center from the suburbs.

These investments in Michigan’s urban cores are more than feel-good storylines – they are good for our business and save us many millions of dollars in costs down the road. But they also do feel good – because cities that buzz with workers are cities that attract more companies and more jobs for the regions around them.

Blue Cross and its Accident Fund subsidiary are here in Michigan to stay – and yeah, we feel pretty good about helping bring Michigan’s cities back.

Andrew Hetzel is vice president for Corporate Communications for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan.